Case study

Helping people make good career decisions

Global impact

Our experts in the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) have produced over 150 research publications in the areas of careers education and guidance since 1998.

ICeGS has consistently addressed lifelong guidance and has produced work on careers education and guidance in schools, on disengaged young people, further education, higher education, human resource management and unemployment.

The Centre has worked in a range of countries including the UK, Kosovo, Canada, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, China and Malaysia. The majority of the Centre’s research has been funded by government or by leading policy stakeholders.

careers guidance support literature

Setting national benchmarks

In response to growing criticism about the quality of careers support for young people, in 2014, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation commissioned Professor Sir John Holman and the International Centre for Guidance Studies to identify ‘what good career guidance looks like’. This was extremely timely.

After years of repeated policy changes in career guidance, the incoming Secretary of State had made radical cuts in provision in 2010 and 2011. Such changes reflected the climate of austerity in public spending, the Government’s school autonomy policy, and concerns by the Secretary of State and others about the strength of the evidence base supporting career guidance and related activities.

Dr. Siobhan Neary, Head of iCeGS, explains the aim and scope of the Gatsby-funded research: “The aim was to uncover examples of best practice career guidance so that these could be used to help guide all schools and Colleges.”

The team, led by Sir John Holman, undertook research in the UK with independent schools and in countries where careers guidance and educational results were considered good: the Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Finland, Canada and Ireland. This was underpinned by an extensive literature review and a survey of around 10% of English state schools.

Good Career Guidance Report

The main outcome of this research was the Good Career Guidance Report (2014), which included the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks. “These Benchmarks provide a user-friendly, accessible measure which helps schools and colleges to assess the quality of their careers provision,” explains Dr. Neary.

The Benchmarks have been endorsed by all major stakeholders in the career guidance field, including government, professional associations, national organisations providing career guidance services to schools and colleges and employers’ associations. They are recommended to schools and Colleges by The Careers and Enterprise Company, which has developed a self-assessment tool and best practice evidence that helps schools map their provision against the Gatsby Benchmarks and enhance their provision.

The team has recently completed an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Gatsby Benchmarks, which have been piloted within 13 state schools and three colleges in the North East of England for four years. Using a new evaluation tool that has been modelled on a validated tool from the USA, the career readiness of thousands of pupils has been assessed at key transitional stages in their education: Year 8, Year 11 and Year 13.

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The bigger picture

The Gatsby project is not an isolated piece of work. There has been a nationwide effort to support schools and colleges to integrate careers activities into the curriculum and to support staff to do this. Dr Neary explains: “There is so much more choice for young people at post-16 now, from further education options such as apprenticeships or A-levels, sixth forms or colleges and beyond that, career and higher education choices. This makes the job of career guidance more important and so schools need evidence of what works; that’s what our research is trying to tell them."

Indeed, the team has a significant portfolio of research work that supports the Gatsby initiative, including a project to assess the quality of careers education in Yorkshire, as well as a Wellcome Trust project to produce resources for governors about careers education. They are also the evaluators for the Personal Guidance Fund which focuses on innovative practice in delivering Personal Guidance to young people (Benchmark 8). Dr. Neary says: “All of this work is about ensuring young people have quality careers support at school and in Colleges to help them make informed choices.”

Findings from the Centre's research contributes to all our learning provision, specifically the content of two accredited programmes that the University of Derby offers: MA Careers Education and Coaching and the Career's Leaders Programme, as well as iCeGS’ short non-accredited courses and CPD events. 

Using new technologies

Another area of our research has been to explore the role of new technologies used in careers work.

Work for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills explored how the internet could be used to provide information, as well as mediated advice or guidance to young people. Using observations of practice as well as interviews and workshops with stakeholders, our researchers generated models of service delivery to incorporate online careers services. More recently, the team have worked with the Career Development Institute (CDI) to research how practitioners use digital technology to deliver careers support and the challenges this creates.

The researchers have also explored the effectiveness of online career mentoring and support for young people.

Analysing transcripts of hundreds of online interactions, our work has shown how to conduct high-quality career guidance at a distance through both telephone and online channels. It has also mapped the terrain of what is possible with respect to career guidance at a distance and how such services fit with conventional face-to-face services.

Our influence

Our research influences national and international government policy.

iCeGS is one of the founding members of the Career Development Policy Group which is campaigning for a guaranteed career guidance interview for all those who need it. This is specifically important within the post-Covid-19 context.

Dr Siobhan Neary is the academic chair for the Skills Commission Inquiry into the Workforce of the Future.

Professor Tristram Hooley was appointed as the Specialist Adviser to the Education Select Committee Inquiry into Career Guidance for Young People and met the Labour Party shadow ministers responsible for career guidance.